By young people, for young people: How Elephant Ed is revolutionising sex education even as COVID-19 keeps schools closed

Elephant Ed

An Elephant Ed sex education class.

Although schools in Victoria are currently closed, sex education hasn’t stopped.

Instead, it just “runs a little bit differently”, says Brandon Friedman, who is the co-founder of sex education provider Elephant Ed.

Founded in 2015, the business has pivoted to an online format in light of COVID-19 restrictions, running live and interactive workshops through a digital platform.

Friedman says these workshops have never been more critical following studies from the eSafety Commissioner that show an 86% increase in “image-based abuse”.

“It’s quite a startling figure but it doesn’t surprise us given the things we are hearing and seeing each day,” he tells SmartCompany.

“We are trialling and refining this [online] service with a select number of schools before rolling it out nationwide. It’s in its infancy at the moment … but we want to create an avenue to explore and discuss the risks faced by students associated with the online world they are being dealt with.

“At the end of the day, who knows how long this pandemic might go for, so we’re trying to stay nimble and prepared for the situation.”

“Students relate well to us as young people”

Elephant Ed began under the premise that sex education was a taboo topic being delivered in a stale way.

Then a law and commerce student, Friedman started the business with Dan Shandler, a journalism student and teacher’s aid who “was basically thrown into delivering sex education classes at the school he was teaching”.

“The students related well to Dan as a young person who’d been through similar things … He could talk at their level, speak their language and create an environment where students could feel comfortable opening up,” Friedman says.

“Dan came to the realisation that there was a huge need for more relatable education in that space, [with] young and passionate facilitators who had a more interactive and informative delivery style than a … teacher pointing fingers telling students what to do and not do.”

Operating under a “pretty simple fee-for-service” model, Elephant Ed has expanded its workshops to over 100 schools across Victoria, and has formed partnerships with Headspace, Latrobe University’s Australian Research Centre in Sex, Health and Safety and Moments Condom.

Featuring a team of 10 facilitators and four expert advisors, it has also established programs for university students, parents and teachers.

The business was in the process of expanding interstate before COVID-19 struck which, Friedman says, has created a “prohibitive climate” for face-to-face workshops and interstate travel.

“Whether it [our digital workshops] helps us grow interstate is something that we’ve considered and, in a university context, it has been received really well,” Friedman says.

“Some students might not have the confidence to attend face-to-face workshops and interact with their peers, but in an online context, they might feel more comfortable.

“The core of Elephant Ed involves face-to-face interaction, but we see [the digital workshops] as a potential opportunity moving forward.”

Sex education moving forward

With some uncertainty as to when schools will open, Friedman said the plan is for Elephant Ed to cement itself in Victoria while increasing its range and access to young people across Australia.

“We’re a pretty big country with a lot of schools and students, and that challenge is big, but also exciting,” he says.

“At the end of the day, we want to make sure that sex education comes from all angles — not just from schools, but also parents and teachers who are well equipped to continue the conversations that are started in the classrooms.

“That will take up most of our time in the future,” he adds.

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This article is supported by the Judith Neilson Institute for Journalism and Ideas.

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